Is Cam Talbot the right man for the Flames’ job?

It has become a yearly tradition for Calgary Flames fans to sit around at the end of June and wonder: who is going to be playing in net next season? Ever since the retirement of Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flames have yet to have an established number one goaltender they can rely on for extended seasons. The “next man up” mentality is alive and well as they look to find a man that sticks.

Times may be changing, as last season David Rittich burst onto the scene to steal the starting job from Mike Smith and help the Flames finish first in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, a lingering injury sustained on New Year’s Eve caused him to miss time and he was unable to get back to 100%. While Smith was the starter for the playoff run, and easily the best Flame on the ice over the series, you stop to wonder what would have happened if Rittich was the number one option?

Of course the time to mope and cope has now passed and the Flames find themselves with just one NHL goaltender under contract for next season. Looking for a new deal himself, Rittich’s contract negotiations start with his qualifying offer, but the Flames need to find themselves a backup at the very least.

Jon Gillies has yet to make the jump to the NHL, Tyler Parsons still needs to find his footing in the AHL, and neither present intriguing tandem options alongside Rittich at this point in time. The door is apparently still open for the Flames to re-sign Smith, but another name presents a much more intriguing option.

Cam Talbot as a Flame?

Cam Talbot, having spent the previous three seasons with the Edmonton Oilers before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers this past season, has been linked to the Flames in recent days.

Far from a done deal, Talbot could be looking to complete a 1A/1B goalie tandem or a backup role with the Flames. Coming off a tougher season, Talbot is looking to re-establish himself in the league.

Does he make sense for the Flames? Let’s take a look at Talbot’s numbers:

Career

SEASONTEAMGPWLOTS/OGAAGSAASV%
2013-14New York Rangers21126131.6415.250.941
2014-15New York Rangers36219452.2111.600.926
2015-16Edmonton Oilers562127532.553.310.917
2016-17Edmonton Oilers734222872.3912.210.919
2017-18Edmonton Oilers673131313.02-9.300.908
2018-19Edmonton Oilers311015313.36-18.14*0.893
2018-19Philadelphia Flyers412003.70-18.14*0.881

* total value between both teams played for that season

Bursting onto the scene with the Rangers in 2013-14, Talbot was a superb backup to Henrik Lundqvist. His numbers during both seasons were better then Lundqvist’s, albeit in much fewer games played. Talbot made some noise as a potential goaltender to fill the starting role one day. One thing led to another, and with Talbot wanting to move out from the shadow of Lundqvist in New York, he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers before the 2015-16 season.

Taking the starting job immediately, Talbot posted solid numbers over his first three seasons. He even helped lead the Oilers to the second round in 2016-17, putting the team on his back the whole way. Over the next two years, his numbers and play dropped. Struggling all of last season, he was eventually traded to Philadelphia for Anthony Stolarz at the trade deadline.

Over his career, we can see that Talbot’s performance in the net has slowly gotten worse with time. This steady decline is concerning, despite playing behind the Oilers’ defense which was just not among the NHL’s best during his time in Edmonton.

Looking at it from an optimistic point of view, one could suggest that last season was the anomaly. He had posted a SV% higher than 0.900 in all of his seasons in the league except for last year, and his GAA strayed significantly from his average.

It’s tough to say which version the Flames could be getting if they decide to pursue him, but it still begs the question: how does Talbot compare to the Flames’ tandem last year?

Talbot versus Flames goaltenders

In 2018-19, there were 44 goaltenders that started more than 30 games during the season; on that list, Talbot does not rank favourably.

Goals against average

LEAGUE RANKPLAYERGPGAAGSAA
17David Rittich452.611.68
20Mike Smith422.72-12.65
42Jonathan Quick463.38-29.22
43Cam Talbot353.40-18.14
44Craig Anderson403.51-13.40

In terms of GAA, Talbot ranked 43rd, good for second last. That being said, when looking at his GSAA it’s much better in comparison to other goaltenders near the bottom of the list. Both Rittich and Smith posted much stronger numbers in more appearances last season, although Smith’s GSAA was close to Talbot’s compared to Rittich.

Save Percentage

LEAGUE RANKPLAYERGPSV%
26David Rittich450.911
40Mike Smith420.898
41Martin Jones460.896
42Cam Talbot350.892
43Keith Kinkaid400.891

Things get marginally better (major emphasis on marginally) with SV%, as Talbot ranked 42nd, an improvement to third last with an ugly 0.892. Even Smith, who had a tough year with his SV%, ranked higher than Talbot at 0.898.

When looking only at last season, it’s clear to see that Talbot was off his game; playing behind a weak Oilers team is definitely something to consider. Without a doubt, he’s entering this season coming off the worst year of his career, but things look better for Talbot when you look at the whole league.

Talbot versus alternative goaltender options

Here is where better opinion of Talbot is formed. Going back to the 2014-15 season (the first season that Talbot appeared in 30 games), his numbers are more palatable.

Goals Against Average

LEAGUE RANKPLAYERGPGAAGSAA
9Sergei Bobrovsky2782.4627.32
12Brian Elliott2062.475.91
21Petr Mrazek2122.64-7.39
25Robin Lehner2042.6614.71
27Cam Talbot2672.685.52
32James Reimer1982.791.45
33Semyon Varlamov2382.793.83
36Mike Smith2462.85-12.65

Over that five season span, there have been 38 goaltenders that have started more than 150 games. In terms of GAA, Talbot ranks 27th. It’s not the best comparatively, but when comparing among the crop of available goaltenders, they are decent. Talbot has also started the second most games over that time span, only behind Sergei Bobrovsky.

GSAA presents a much more appealing picture for Talbot, where he ranks fourth among these goaltenders. His 5.53 GSAA over that time period is hurt but a tough past two seasons, but shows that although his GAA is higher he still has been able to save more goals against the average comparatively.

Save Percentage

LEAGUE RANKPLAYERGPSV%
7Sergei Bobrovsky2780.919
10Robin Lehner2040.918
23Brian Elliott2060.915
24Semyon Varlamov2380.914
26Cam Talbot2670.913
27James Reimer1980.913
33Petr Mrazek2120.911
34Mike Smith2460.910

A similar result can be seen with SV%, where Talbot ranks slightly better at 26th, but stays the same among available goaltenders. Still with a 0.913 SV%, it’s better than Smith’s over the same time period.

Of course “available” is more of a generalized term, as some of these goaltenders aren’t really options. The aforementioned Bobrovsky is about to be handed a ridiculous contract, Lehner is coming off a Vezina calibre season and would be looking for a deserved raise, and others simply won’t fit under the Flames’ cap.

And this is a point to drive home. Where Talbot really shines is in his contract value.

A Potential Deal

The fact that Talbot is coming off of the worst season of his career plays directly into the Flames’ hand. The majority of UFA goaltending deals signed during Free Agent Frenzy are not as lucrative as you may think. The largest goaltender contracts handed out on July 1st over the past three years are:

PLAYERTEAMYEARTERMTOTAL $AAV
James ReimerFLA20164 Years $ 17,000,000 $ 3,400,000
Steve MasonWPG20172 Years $ 8,200,000 $ 4,100,000
Brian ElliottPHI20172 Years $ 5,500,000 $ 2,750,000
Jonathan BernierDET20183 Years $ 9,000,000 $ 3,000,000
Jaroslav HalakBOS20182 Years $ 5,500,000 $ 2,750,000

That’s not a lot of money when considering the overall market. These deals don’t carry a lot of term either.

The fact that Talbot is coming off a three-year deal that paid him ~$4.17M per season, locking in a contract in the $2M range for one season would make sense for Talbot. The dollar value and term also makes sense for the Flames who are up against the cap. Perhaps that number could even fall to $1.5M or $1.75M if Brad Treliving can smooth talk his way to a better deal.

The Best Option

It’s never good to continuously bring new goaltenders in year after year, but when looking at a short term option to help Rittich in net; Talbot could very well be the best available option. Smith will most likely get an offer somewhere else, but his health and age are also a big question mark. Elliott has already been attempted, Reimer would require a trade with Florida, and Mrazek will also be courted elsewhere for more money than the Flames can probably afford.

He may not be the most attractive option when looking at it from a high level, but Talbot would be an extremely cost effective and motivated option for the Flames to look at. If it doesn’t work out, then perhaps it’s time to try the young tandem with Rittich and Gillies. If it does work out, then the Flames may well make one of the smartest decisions in free agency this year.


What do you think about the Flames signing Cam Talbot? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @wincolumnblog.

Photo by Jason Franson of The Canadian Press.

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